18 July 2024, 09:46
By Furniture News Dec 15, 2022

South Coast sofamaker levels up

Furniture News last visited The Hastings Sofa Company in spring 2019, a fledgling newco 18-strong that was turning out some 40 models each week. Having endured a pandemic, its team now numbers 50, and output has ramped up to 100 – with the potential to double. Crucially, its managers have a good idea of where they’ll find growth, writes Paul Farley … 

A spiritual successor of Collins & Hayes – the heritage brand acquired by Sofa Brands International in 2017 – The Hastings Sofa Company was founded in 2018 to make the most of the longstanding team’s expertise and manufacturing facilities, giving them a lifeline in the wake of a series of troubled ownerships. 

To date, the business – which is managed by MD Danny Cleaver, operations director Marc Gall and FD Mark Hillyard – has created white-label lines for retail partners including Heal’s, Sofas & Stuff and Barker & Stonehouse, and online players such as Swoon and Rowen Homes (Sofa Workshop and Maker & Sons also proved lucrative). 

Latterly, its partners – such as Made To Last, and The Pure Edit, a new e-store from the people behind Clarke & Clarke) – have demanded increasingly eco-friendly builds, prompting The Hastings Sofa Company to explore new material directions. 

Despite a pandemic to contend with, there’s been virtually no staff churn, a genuine ‘in it together’ attitude helping ensure retention – while canny recruitment measures have been deployed to build the number of both skilled and unskilled production staff.

The next logical step is the development of its own product line for independents, and a timely new hire promises to catalyse that journey.

Having departed fellow Hastings sofa manufacturer Michael Tyler, after 30 years of service which culminated in him managing virtually every department there, Steve Smedley was enlisted by The Hastings Sofa Company to design, advise and market its path to the next level.

“I’d had a break after leaving Michael Tyler, and was contacted by Danny,” says Steve. “I thought it sounded really interesting. Danny acknowledges that the business has been more reactive than proactive – it has evolved, but in many cases they’re doing things in a certain way just because they’ve always been done that way.”

“We’ve been going hell for leather for four years,” Danny agrees, “so of course most of our work’s been driven by our customers.”

Starting with three or four designs, and enhancing the PoS and marketing materials around the existing lines, Steve’s expertise is set to cement The Hastings Sofa Company’s place in the UK industry, and the management team are incredibly excited by that prospect.

“Getting Steve on board is a real coup for us,” says Marc, “and it shows we’re invested in our future here. He brings best-practice approaches and a real veteran’s eye to what we’re doing.”

Extra manpower will be essential to realising this growth, and, despite the challenge of recruiting the right people, Danny is confident that The Hastings Sofa Company is an attractive option. 

“It’s not really a factory,” he says, “it’s a big workshop. I visited a competitor a year ago, and there wasn’t a window in sight – we offer a completely different environment. On top of that, we’re lucky to have a good community here, good neighbours, and a nice coastal location. Factory floor staff can generally be trained up in three months, and we’re hoping to be able to introduce apprenticeships in the future.

“To retain your staff, you have to respect them, and be flexible when it matters. As managers, all three of us spend a lot of time in the workshop, getting involved with any job if needed, like loading and wrapping. Last year, we gave our staff right across the floor a +10% pay rise – when you’re having to offer newcomers more to get them in, it’s a real slap in the face if you can’t reward your existing team accordingly.”

Danny admits that 2022 has brought fresh challenges. Material shortages might be less frequent, but costs continue to rise, meaning extra care must be paid to fabric and wood selection, and further experimentation with alternative materials must take place. 

“Despite that, we’re continuing to maintain quality, bringing down our lead times, keeping an eye on our price points, and going after the right partners,” he says. 

It sounds like the trade can expect to see a lot more from The Hastings Sofa Company. 

“For too long, we’ve been preoccupied with just existing,” concludes Marc. “Now it’s time to kick on!”

Pictured: From left – Mark Hillyard, Danny Cleaver, Steve Smedley and Marc Gall

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